This portrait of Ina Te Papatahi, a Nga Puhi kuia from the Hokianga, was painted by one of New Zealand’s most controversial artists – Charles Frederick Goldie. It is one of his largest works.
Ina Te Papatahi was the niece of two prominent Nga Puhi rangatira, Tamati Waka Nene and Eru Patuone. She was also one of Goldie’s favourite models – he painted her more than eighteen times. In this painting she is depicted in a typical ‘Goldie pose’, with her chin resting on her hand, eyes averted, and a blanket slung over her shoulders. Her attitude suggests a sense of defeat and melancholy.
Goldie painted her in this romanticised style because he believed he was recording a race in jeopardy. Like many Pakeha in the early twentieth century, Goldie believed the Maori race would either die out or be assimilated.
Very few of the Maori in Goldie’s paintings are young or active, even though at the beginning of twentieth century the Maori population was increasing and there were many vigorous young Maori political groups forming.
Many titles of Goldie’s paintings also suggest a paternalistic, pitying attitude towards Maori: The Last of the Cannibals, A Noble Relic of a Noble Race, Weary With Years. This painting is no exception. Darby and Joan are characters from a sentimental eighteenth century English ballad and the term has come to represent any elderly couple or life-long partners. It is thought that Ina Te Papatahi is Joan in this painting and the carved ancestral figure, Darby.
Darby and Joan was painted in 1903, as was The Widow: Harata Rewiri Tarapata, Nga Puhi. These paintings received overwhelming praise in Auckland where they were exhibited. In his heyday, Goldie was New Zealand's most revered artist – the public was captivated by Goldie’s style with his meticulous attention to detail and realistic depiction of the clothes, artefacts and moko of his subjects.
In 1904 the citizens of Auckland raised two hundred guineas through public subscription to purchase the paintings as a gift for the dearly loved Countess of Ranfurly, wife of the retiring Governor of New Zealand. This was a considerable sum of money at the time. The paintings were considered an appropriate gift for the popular Countess; not only would they remind her of New Zealand, but they were thought to be typical of Maori life for which she had a great affection.
The Ranfurlys took the paintings to Ireland and installed them in their New Zealand Room. The paintings remained in Ireland and were eventually inherited by their great granddaughter who sold them in 1989. The following year, the National Art Gallery's decision to purchase them for $900,000 (NZ) caused considerable controversy.
When Darby and Joan and The Widow were first displayed at The National Art Gallery, the public flocked to see them. The reaction reflected the controversy surrounding Goldie, with some visitors loving the paintings, others hating them. The remarks filled the pages of several comments books.
It is clear that despite the criticism of Goldie, his paintings are extremely popular, and what was particularly evident at the National Art Gallery was the widespread reverence amongst many Maori for these paintings. In Maori culture, all images of ancestors hold special significance, whether carved, painted or photographed. ‘Maori visitors looked at the paintings with the reverence and respect due to the ancestors represented there, whereas many Pakeha continued to view Goldie's work as documenting colonial attitudes of racism’ (1).
It seems almost everyone has an opinion on the work of Charles Frederick Goldie, and his paintings continue to provoke reactions amongst admirers and detractors alike.
(1) Baskett, Pat. (1997). The Gleam of Goldie Carries a High Price. New Zealand Herald 26 February.
Text originally published in Tai Awatea, Te Papa's onfloor multimedia database (1998).